James Walker's Will

Tracing Family History: NarrowBoat, Summer 2023

Christopher M Jones

Chris M. Jones looks into the history behind a boatman’s will

A recent rare find of a boatman’s will provides an interesting insight into the life of workers on the Basingstoke Canal in the 19th century. Dated 27th June 1877, it was the last will and testament of James Walker who lived at Heath Cottage at the canalside village of Ash, near Aldershot. James was the son of Elizabeth and Stephen Walker, lock-keeper at Frimley Lock, Deep Cut, near Pirbright, and he was born c1826. He worked as an agricultural labourer in his teens, eventually moving away to work on the railway as a platelayer at Woolwich, east London, by the early 1850s. While there, he boarded in the home of a widowed Irish dockworker named Cornelius McCormick and his daughter Bridget, who had been born at Woolwich, and was some years older than James. James obviously formed a relationship with Bridget which led to their apparent marriage, but, as we shall see, their union wasn’t quite as it seemed. Acknowledgements Thanks to canal families historian Lorna York for add…

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